Coles County, Illinois, located in the east-central part of the state, has more than its share of strange tales and legends. It is also home to a fair number of ghost towns. Little remains of most of these settlements, but they provide an interesting window into the past. Here are just a few.
Most people have heard of the alleged witch’s grave in St. Omer Cemetery, but not many know that a small village used to exist just south of the cemetery. The village, also named St. Omer, has been defunct for over a hundred years, and any remains, aside from a few square fields of grass and old fence posts, have been completely obscured.
St. Omer, named after a seventh century French saint also known as Audomarus, was officially founded in 1852, although it had been called Cutler’s Settlement since 1834. According to The History of Coles County, the village was a collection of around six houses, a store, post office, and a blacksmith’s shop, but the Coles County Map & Tour Guide says that forty to fifty families once lived there.
St. Omer disappeared in the 1880s. The community of Hitesville, formerly located a few miles south east of Ashmore, suffered a similar fate. Families living in the two villages packed up and moved to Ashmore when the railroad was built. In 1893, a schoolhouse and Presbyterian church still stood on the Barnes family land, but nothing remains of either of the buildings. The church burned down in the 1950s.
The History of Coles County, 1876-1976 tells us that Morgan Township contained some of the first land to be settled in Coles County, because of a prevalence of good forests and freshwater springs. The first schoolhouse was constructed in 1839, probably in an area known as “Greasy Point,” but its exact location has been lost to history. It was about a mile or so southwest of that point that settlers attempted to build Curtisville, the first village in the township, at or near the intersection of county roads 1700N and 1820E.
Curtisville originally contained a store owned by a man named Cutler Mitchell, a blacksmith shop, as well as a few houses. The village was never officially platted, but it was featured on early maps and possessed a post office in 1867. According to the History of Coles County, “the post office was simply an office for the convenience of the neighbours, and whoever went to town brought out the mail-bag. It was not a regular office, nor was the mail brought regularly, but as it suited the convenience of some one who had other business at town.”
Aside from an old, crumbling barn, all traces of this village have disappeared or were plowed over a long time ago. Only windswept corn and soybean fields remain.
The long-lost village of Farmington was, for a time, the only village in Pleasant Grove Township. Today, only a few structures remain of this once bustling community. It was laid out on April 25, 1852, at the request of John J. Adams, who owned the land. His wife, Caroline, named the village Farmington, after a town in Tennessee. Unfortunately, the U.S. Post Office refused to change the name of the nearby post, because a Farmington already existed in Fulton County. It remained known as Campbell’s Post Office, and soon after the village’s official name became Campbell.
In 1853, residents erected a brick schoolhouse, which doubled as a school and Presbyterian Church until 1857. According to the History of Coles County, 1879, it was called Farmington Seminary and operated as a school until the building became too small to accommodate the growing village. It was then sold and repurposed as a general store.
Reuben Moore was a wealthy resident of the community. After his first wife died, he married Matilda Johnson Hall, Abraham Lincoln’s stepsister. The State of Illinois acquired their home in the 1920s and it has been restored several times, most recently in 1996.
By 1879, Farmington/Campbell was home to around one hundred people, who were served by four stores, a carriage shop, blacksmith shop, steam flour mill, school, and two churches. According to a historic marker outside the Reuben Moore Home, “The boom days, however, were short lived. When the railroad passed up Farmington in favour of Jamesville a few miles to the south, local residents moved elsewhere. Today, only a few houses and a church remind passersby of the village.”
Hitesville was located about two miles southwest of the town of Ashmore at the intersection of county roads 820N and 2740E, not far from Route 49. The old Hitesville Cemetery (no longer in use) is not too far south of there, along Route 49. The former Greenwood School, now a museum on the Eastern Illinois University campus, rested between three roads just west of where Hitesville once stood.
The origin of Hitesville is somewhat murky. Local history books relate that James Hite, an immigrant from Kentucky who came to Coles County in 1831, created the village and named it after himself in April of 1835. A stone marker at the location, however, proclaims that Hitesville was founded in 1837. Whatever the year of its establishment, at its peak it contained several shops and houses. The History of Coles County, 1879 stated that the village was “swallowed up” by new villages that appeared when the Indianapolis & St. Louis Railroad was built. Ashmore, which was plotted in 1855, was the most likely culprit.
James Hite and some of his neighbours also built a nearby Presbyterian church. A man by the name of Reverend John Steele presided over the congregation until the building was sold when James Hite moved out of the area. The parishioners, many of whom were from the St. Omer area, then attended a different church. Hitesville lasted just long enough to appear on a map of the county along with St. Omer and Ashmore. Shortly thereafter, both Hitesville and St. Omer ceased to exist.